Not exactly a start-up but in full commercial ramp-up mode, this little outfit's got big potential
By Ryan Skinner (email)
It wasn't long ago I saw a spooky video showing the twisting and swinging of a (usually) straight corridor running the length of a ship in a storm. To those of us who only the dry, commercial end of the shipping business, seeing how these rigid structures turn fluid in rough seas is, well, unsettling.
And what does a lifetime of these contortions do to steel? Basically, every bulker afloat has a basic, mechanical system to measure lifetime stresses on the hull. A small, research-driven company called Light Structures reinvents this basic task in a way that may significantly extend the lifetime of ships.
Light Structures' core technology is basically a fibre-optic measurement system, and the software and algorithms to turn the measurements into an almost-real-time tool to advise seafarers on how conditions are affecting the ships' hull. Imagine a ship plowing through heavy seas with bad trim and an unwise heading; you might imagine a dial showing the ships' value rapidly counting down.
Yes, we're talking about yet another monitoring tool for the DSS (Decision Support System) toolbox; critically, Light Structures is keen to play nice with other systems, so that its information can be easily set against weather routing information, shipboard automation systems, tank measurement, the works.
As mentioned, the company is no newbie. It's been in operation on many ships - perhaps most notably the Q-FLEX and Q-MAX LNG tankers, where it's sloshing measurement qualities were particularly appreciated. FPSOs have also warmed up to Light Structures, as its systems provide them with more flexibility when considering a move (as opposed to scrutinizing weather reports).
Light Structures believes that now is the time to grow the company, and it has set a goal to be the leading supplier of structure condition monitoring systems to the maritime, offshore and wind segments within five years. It has brought onboard Inge Paulsen of SINTEF Marintek to drive this commercialization and beef up relationships with yards and owners around the world.
One of the most interesting commercial applications for this kind of technology may be the pedigree it creates for any ship. A lifetime of strains and twists are stored up in data from Light Structures, and provide documentation to ship buyers and sellers, who would otherwise have little more to go on than a cursory ship inspection. As anyone who has shopped for used cars would know, some have been driven harder than others.
Lastly, I've been tipped off to some revolutionary work on composite materials going on in Norway's Sunnmøre maritime cluster. That's another strength for Light Structures, Inge Paulsen told me, as its systems have built up a strong reputation on composite ships in the Norwegian Navy.
Light Structures? Heavy arguments.